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In-State College Tuition Policies for Undocumented Immigrants: Implications for High School Enrollment Among Non-citizen Mexican Youth


This paper examines the secondary effects of policies that extend or deny in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants. Drawing upon repeated cross-sections of 15–17-year-olds in the Current Population Survey across 1997–2010, we assess changes in high school enrollment rates among Mexican-born non-citizen youth—a proxy for the undocumented youth population. We find that Mexican-born non-citizen youth living in states that deny in-state tuition benefits to undocumented youth are 49 % less likely to be enrolled in school than their peers living in states with no explicit policy. Conversely, Mexican-born non-citizen youth living in states that grant in-state tuition benefits to undocumented youth are 65 % more likely to be enrolled in school than their peers living in states with no explicit policy. The enactment of these policies is unrelated to changes in school enrollment among naturalized citizens. Our findings lend support to the proposition that that the implementation of in-state tuition policies sends signals to immigrant youth about their future educational possibilities in the long-term, which in turn influences the extent to which they engage in school in the short-term.

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Fig. 1


  1. We consider undocumented youth as those who were born outside the United States to parents who are not authorized to reside or work in the United States. These youth were brought to the United States by their parents before they turned age 18. This does not include those whose parents are naturalized citizens, hold green cards, or hold any other form of legal authorization.

  2. While our analysis and our review of past research is focused on the implementation of these policies at the national level, it is worth nothing that a handful of studies focusing only on Texas found that the extension of in-state tuition in 2001 was associated with increases in college enrollment within the state (Flores 2010; Dickson and Pender 2013).

  3. As of 2010, immigrants from Mexico comprised 62 % of the undocumented population in the United States (Hoefer et al. 2010).

  4. In our analytic sample, 37.4 % of sample members had unemployment rates measured at the state level, 7.5 % of sample members had unemployment rates measured at the county level, and 55.1 % of sample members had unemployment rates measured at the MSA level. We included a control variable in all models (parameter estimates not shown) indicating the geographic level used to measure unemployment.

  5. It is also possible, albeit unlikely, that students other than undocumented immigrants would experience a “crowding out” effect from accommodating tuition policies. If those students anticipate increased competition from undocumented immigrants for college admission as a result of the policy, they may be less likely to enroll in college. Under this interpretation, a zero coefficient for γ 1 and γ 2 is indicative of a lack of evidence for such a “crowding out” hypothesis.

  6. In supplementary analyses not shown, we replaced the binary policy indicators with continuous measures that indexed the number of months since each policy was enacted. These estimates mirrored those obtained using the binary indicators: each additional month since the enactment of a restrictive policy was associated with a reduction in the odds of school enrollment among Mexican-born non-citizen youth and each additional month since the enactment of an accommodating policy was associated with an increase in the odds of school enrollment among Mexican-born non-citizen youth. These findings are available upon request from the authors.

  7. In analyses not shown, we also estimated the model for three other groups of non-native-born, non-citizens: Asians, non-Mexican Hispanics, and Black. Across these three groups, the enactment of restrictive or accommodating policies was unrelated with school enrollment. As these samples are less likely to contain to undocumented immigrants (and instead include legally authorized youth, exchange students, etc.), it is not clear whether there is in fact a null effect or if the samples are “underpowered” with undocumented youth to detect an effect. Additionally, there may be specific racial-dynamics at play in how these policies are communicated to and enforced among those perceived to be undocumented, the majority of whom are Mexican. Population-level analyses using data like the CPS are not equipped to detect such dynamics.


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This research was supported by a generous grant to the authors from the Spencer Foundation (#201200043). All analyses and interpretations are the authors alone.

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Correspondence to Robert Bozick.

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Bozick, R., Miller, T. In-State College Tuition Policies for Undocumented Immigrants: Implications for High School Enrollment Among Non-citizen Mexican Youth. Popul Res Policy Rev 33, 13–30 (2014).

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  • Immigrant
  • Undocumented immigrant
  • School enrollment
  • State policies